Be who you want to be, not what others want to see.
The quote above never fails to provoke a wave of memories to hit me. I remember somewhat clearly the days upon nights of cafe dates with chingus (friends), of beachly wonders, of bar talks, of musing about the world and nothing. South Korea, for me, was a sweet awakening. For too long before my two years in the land of the morning calm, I’d just been going to school and then work, without much in between. I didn’t live, I just existed. But in Korea, I felt fearless. Refreshed. Understood. For the first time in my life, or so I felt, I felt like… me. The real me. The me I’d been hiding all along. The me I’d repressed for too long. It felt good to be. All because of good people who helped awaken the me beneath the veneer of closedness. I haven’t repressed that me since those days, because what’s the use in acting when being you is easier?
Dana awed me, because she was a young soul with joy for life. Every moment was selfie-worthy. Every picture deserved a genuine smile. She truly made you happy in her presence. She knew more about people than she let on. She never judged you for who you were. She just took you under her wing and kept you there for the ride of your life. I danced nights away with her. She taught me to shut up and enjoy myself.
Patrick was funny, crude and insightful. He was a designer, too, a kindred soul who hated office life too. His toilet misfortunes were legendary. He was the one who first made me talk out loud about why I needed distance from home. We analyzed and theorized about our futures. He helped me figure myself out. He helped me say it out loud: “I don’t want to revert back to the person I used to be.” He taught me to be assertive.
I spent days and nights awake talking with Corey, feeling a kindred soul who maybe needed someone to talk to, too. We were both something of misunderstood social outlanders. He taught me to be okay with being awkward but strong.
I misjudged Clarissa in the beginning. Didn’t think she’d be the type of person who’d give me the time of day. Yet, she ended up being an anchor I could depend on, someone who made me feel fearless, worthy, amazing. She organized and made things happen, because she wouldn’t have anyone sit out on a good time. She taught me to stop overthinking so much.
Andrea was an awkward, quiet, funny and sweet free spirit. She needed a break from her life back home too, and eventually decided to stay in Korea to continue building herself and her self-confidence. I was more like her than I realized at the time.
This is an ode to these people who were the core of my life in South Korea. I’ll never forget you. I’ll always thank you in my heart for making my South Korean journey so unforgettable, and for shaping me into me.